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Source: Stephen Codrington
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MINERAL SANDS ON THE MOVE
14 June 2018
Australian mining company, Iluka Resources, is a world-class producer of mineral sands.
These sands are found in ancient shorelines that have receded over geological time and may be close to existing shorelines (as in Western Australia) or hundreds of kilometres away (as in New South Wales).
Mineral sands consist of minerals (based on titanium and zirconium) that are used particularly as a pigment for paint and as the source of the opaque white appearance of ceramics.
A mineral-sands operation. Source: Iluka Resources.
In common with most other minerals, mineral-sands prices have increased in the past 18 months – in Iluka Resources’ case, by about 30% for its key products. This is leading to a burst of project activity.
For example, in Australia, Iluka Resources, is developing the Cataby project in Western Australia (with first production by mid-2019) and plans the expansion of its Jacinth-Ambrosia mine in South Australia.
In Sierra Leone in west Africa, it is expanding its Sierra Rutile mine, which is based on one of the world’s largest rutile resources. (Rutile is the component of mineral sands with the highest titanium concentration.)
The capital cost of these projects will total at least US$400 million.
Other Australian mineral-sands companies are planning new mines in Australia (e.g. Image Resources, Cristal Mining) and overseas (e.g. Strandline Resources in Tanzania, Base Resources in Madagascar).
The consultancy company, TZ Minerals International, sees favourable conditions ahead for mineral-sands miners.
In a note early this year, it describes the market for pigments based on titanium dioxide (sourced from minerals sands) as “buoyant”. It assesses that “new supply will need to be brought onstream from 2019 to avoid supply deficits”.
In the case of zircon (an oxide of zirconium, also sourced from mineral sands), it says that supply “is set to decline considerably in the lead up to 2021, driven by mine depletions at several locations”. As a result, “the market will remain tight in the foreseeable future unless new supply is induced”.